Lessons from 2001 book can be seen today at Discovery Communications

February 24, 2013

Vanessa Small, who writes our Behind the Career feature, often asks business leaders about books they are reading.

I’m surprised how many say “Good to Great,” a management bestseller dating back to 2001 that attempts to define the characteristics that help companies rise above mere competence.

Two local companies figured prominently as Good to Great models, Fannie Mae and Circuit City, so we know “great” is not necessarily a permanent condition. The government placed Fannie in conservatorship to prevent it from failing during the economic meltdown. Circuit City was not so lucky. It liquidated.

Nevertheless, the book’s provocative lessons occurred to me the other day as I was reading a transcript of David M. Zaslav’s conference call with investors discussing the quarterly results of his Silver Spring-based Discovery Communications.

Author Jim Collins preaches the importance of simplicity in creating a business strategy. Sometimes simple is not so obvious.

An analyst asked Zaslav whether a show like “Amish Mafia,” about a group of unofficial lawmen in Lancaster, Pa., might be off-brand for a channel that made its mark with Shark Week, documentaries about planet Earth, and the countless exploits of outdoors people?

Just the opposite, Zaslav explained. The show is very much a piece of offerings such as “Gold Rush,” about Alaskans mining for the precious metal, and “Finding Bigfoot” on the company’s Animal Planet channel.

“As technology rapidly evolves and economies ebb and flow, Discovery’s underlying focus remains exactly the same, delivering long-term value by creating the highest-quality content with great storytelling and compelling characters that can be leveraged around the globe and across a growing number of digital and consumer platforms.”

A simple idea: Storytelling and compelling characters. Here might be a strategy worth watching.

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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